Who Is This Person Anyway?

Today I updated my About page. Yesterday I updated my website. The more posts I write, the more I can’t stand the Goody-Goody in me to surface. That’s not me. It’s not who I am. Sarcastic, that’s who I am. So no more Ms. Nice Woman. WYSIWYG.

It’s an opportunity to get you to read the new About page. You know you want to do it and I’ll know how many of you actually clicked on it. My stats will show the counts. So go ahead. Make my day.

I started following a blogger this week, The Cheeky Diva. I don’t know how I ended up there, but it was from a link from a blog I already follow. Sometimes, I link to one, which links to another, and on and on it goes, until I can’t remember how I got there but it doesn’t matter because it’s a blog that I like and one from which I think I can learn something. Mostly, how to be yourself, how to get your voice onto the page.

It doesn’t work to deny your real voice. This is who I am. This is how I really feel. That’s what should come through. The Cheeky Diva does that. She really lets it all hang out there, from her extremely dysfunctional family when she was growing up to what’s happening to her today.

When the email announcing her new post came, I clicked on it. It was great. The first post that I got after becoming a follower of her blog, went Freshly Pressed. This is something I have talked about a lot in the past. It is probably boring to non-bloggers but interesting to the WordPress community because it is something everyone wants to achieve.  It’s just those WordPress Gods bestowing honors on posts they think are really, really good. Sometimes I can’t see why they are good, but that’s probably because I’m not always interested in the subject matter. But not the case with this particular FP choice.

Of course, it’s not for everyone. I admire her ability to be that honest, to be able to write candidly about her childhood. I’m not sure I could do it, but then I had a completely Goody-Goody type of childhood. I love the wit, the irony, the sarcasm and the comedy of some of the bloggers I follow. One of these days, I’m going to put up a blog roll which will list them all.

So, in keeping with my new quest for bloggery realism, I have been collecting pictures and data for a series of posts I will call “Why Would Anyone Do This?” I’ll be posting the first one next week. I am fascinated by certain things people do, that I find odd, or stupid, or uncomfortable, or really weird. I have several posts in mind.

While I was writing this, another blogger I follow received notification that she is being featured as one of the bloggers of the day on bloggers.com. Wow, that’s great too. Maybe it’s because all good things happen to bloggers I follow. That’s it. I am the catalyst for all the mighty achievements happening in the blog worlds of others. I need to remain calm here, squash my feelings of invidiousness.

Really. It’s okay. I’ll be all right.

(Note: It appears my last post was reposted this morning. All my followers will get an email about it. I was just adding tags. Honest! It’s WordPress’s fault.)


Image courtesy of Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Should a Newbie Author Pay For a Review?

Speaking of reviews, Perigee Moon had a nice one here. Thanks to Carrie (AKA Connie) Rubin for including me in her list of books by fellow bloggers. I read her new book too and posted a review here. And no, it wasn’t a case of “you give me five stars and I’ll return the favor”, it was a genuinely fast-paced, exciting, well-written first novel. I recommend it, especially if you like medical thrillers with a little Sci Fi thrown in. Really, I recommend it to anyone.

Another blogger, Peggy Strack, in her post about Credible Reviews and the Debut Author, talked about how she decided to spring for a Kirkus review. Kirkus will review pre-released novels, which can be a great marketing tool, supposing that you get a good review, especially if you are self-publishing.

They (Kirkus) don’t make any promises, send them a crappy novel and you’ll get a crappy review.  If it happens that way, that the review is bad, the author has the option of not accepting it and it will never be seen by anyone. So, hmmm. Doesn’t that mean that all Kirkus reviews will be good ones? On the other hand, why not? If it’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, no one will be the wiser, except the author who can cry about it in private.

Kirkus charges between $400 and $500 for a review, which is pricey, and probably another example of an outlay of cash for my rather expensive hobby. My books aren’t selling well, and I am struggling with marketing them. So I’m considering it.

There is another more inexpensive option that I could try, $149 for a Publisher’s Weekly review. Authors submitting to them may or may not have their books accepted for a review. 25% are accepted, and the review still is not guaranteed to be good, which of course it shouldn’t be. These reviews get published on their website, bad or good. I’m considering that too.

I also consulted the Book Blogger Directory, which is a list of blogs/sites of book reviewers who will review for nothing. Normally they specify a genre that they prefer, but sometimes they’ll say “I’ll Review Anything!!” yet when you look at what they have reviewed you see (yet again) books about vampires and drudges and werewolves. So I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to be into character-driven novels about people who came of age in the sixties.

I delved into this huge list alphabetically, and went to each site and looked to see if it could be a fit. I got through the B’s which took days of endless searching. And it has to be on a Good Internet Day, which is another story, but the short version is I have a Verizon Mifi Hotspot which tends to suck, on and off, and provide me with less than optimum opportunities to surf.

Literally, I went through hundreds of sites, and found 3 which may be applicable but learned a lot about who I might approach for a review and who I would not. The following is a list of reasons I would bypass a particular review site:

  1. Your blog says “Grand Opening June 30th, 2012” and it’s already August.
  2. The dreaded “Error 404 No Page Found” comes up. This one is self-explanatory.
  3. Your blog is not in English. This wouldn’t be a problem for an author who speaks your language, but you know, it’s probably going to be a bit of a communication barrier for us.
  4. Your last post was one year ago. Got a problem with commitment?
  5. You say you are “not currently reviewing books”. Then what are you doing on this list of book review blogs?
  6. I see reviews for books about “faeries”. Or any of the above-mentioned stuff, for the above-mentioned reason.
  7. You deign not to review self-published books. Aren’t we fussy?
  8. You say you are “currently without internet access”. Well, I know all about that. It can be a real problem, but still, better get on that if you want to be a book reviewer.
  9. You apologize profusely for your absence and give an explanation of “where you have been”. I wonder how often that happens with you, Ms. Book Reviewer. Not sure I want to take the chance that you will go away again and I’ll think it’s because you can’t bear to give me bad news.
  10. Your site offers the possibility to “embrace my decadent desires” and there is a warning that it is a “Mature Site”. Pretty sure this isn’t a good fit.
  11. Your review policy is “Coming Soon”. Shouldn’t you have this figured out before you created your site and appeared on the list?
  12. Your website/blog color combo is such that it makes it impossible for my older eyes to read the text. An example: yellow lettering against a red background. This is obviously an age discrepancy, which probably makes us incompatible as reviewer/reviewee anyway.
  13. Your reviews are so chock full of bad English and misspellings that I don’t think you’d recognize good writing if it fell at your feet. (How do you spell misspelling? Is that right?)
  14. There’s a picture of a guy with a six-pack on your latest review, and it’s not the kind that comes in cans, it’s the abdominal thing.
  15. Your site is too pink. This is irrational, I know. Just  got a feeling about it.
  16. You review The Hunger Games and the latest Nora Roberts romance novel. These books don’t need your reviews, they have the New York Times, among others.
  17. Your latest post wishes me Happy New Year (2012). See #4 above for a question about commitment.

This brings me to question if I might do reviews myself. I already have my Review Policy worked out. I’d review books in my own genre, by new authors, of my particular age group. Is there a market for it? Would anyone be interested? Would I be able to give bad news to aspiring writers? Does anyone care what I have to say anyway?

Is there a future for baby boomer literature? Or matron-lit as it’s sometimes called, although I do hate that term. Don’t you think there must be a lot of retiring boomers out there with more time on their hands now? Wouldn’t they like to read stories about their own age group?

Or are they all living in Fifty Shades of Fantasy Land?


Beneath the Eiffel Tower

When you go to Paris, you visit the Eiffel Tower. It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity. It’s hard to imagine returning home and having this conversation:

You: So, did you see the Eiffel Tower, the Iron Lady?

Me: Well, um, no.

You: What?! Why not? Did you know that the Eiffel Tower stands 324 meters tall including the antenna (that’s 1063 feet!), and it weighs 7,300 tons, and that until 1930 it was the tallest structure in the world?

Me: Actually, no, I didn’t know all that.

You: And did you know over 200 million people have visited the Tower, and that you can see for about 42 miles from the top?

Me: Nope, didn’t really know that either.

You: I’m just dumbfounded. I can’t believe you went to Paris and didn’t go there. You’re such a loser.

Me: Yeah, I guess so.

See, I didn’t want to have that conversation, so Herr Schneider and I did, in fact, go to the Eiffel Tower.

(I decided to refer to my traveling companion as Herr Schneider. Carrie, over at The Write Transition, refers to her guy as Mr. Rubin, Renee at Life in the Boomer Lane has a better half known as “now husband” and a nice woman over at Blogdramedy calls her man The Mister, so I needed a unique name for my person without giving up too much information about him. Herr Schneider does not like his personal information blasted all over the internet, necessarily, so I need to protect him. Since his “people” came over on the boat (generations ago but still) and both sides hail from different areas of Germany, it is right and fitting to use “Herr”, I think.)

Anyway, Herr Schneider and I went to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and this is what we saw:

Then we got up our courage, waited in line for an hour, and held our breaths (it was a hot day) on a very crowded and claustrophobic elevator and were lifted to the “third” floor which is a hell of a ways up there. This is what we saw:

Upon our return to earth, we were hot and thirsty, and Herr went to buy a bottle of water, while I looked for a place to sit. Herr took his wallet out of his front pocket (NO! He wasn’t wearing that front butt money belt thing he bought), removed ten Euros and returned the wallet to his front pocket.

Guess what happened next? Right. Wallet turns up missing. Seems a guy in the next line had seen where the money was and relieved Herr Schneider of it, along with a driver’s license, miscellaneous credit cards, a debit card, and probably an AARP card.

There we were, a long, long way from our hotel, with ten Euros. I had nothing on me because Herr Schneider is my Sugar Daddy. I carried no purse, since those things are likely to get ripped off. Har, har! But a scan-proof wallet carried in a front pocket is surely safe! Well, it would appear, not so much.

Herr Schneider became visibly upset, and I quickly realized that it was my turn to be The Strong One. So as he sat there, head in hands, I tried to console him, tried to think what to do.

We went to the Eiffel Tower police and they informed us that they had no computer (what?) and that we needed to walk for twenty minutes to an actual police station. We started walking, and an hour later (why does everyone underestimate the time it will take when walking?) we reached the address of the police station but couldn’t immediately find it because it was located underground. Okay, whatever.

One person spoke English, sort of. See, those French lessons I had didn’t take too well. All I could do was ask where certain streets were, and then I couldn’t understand the answer anyway. Ou es la Rue de Fabert?

We filled out a police report, looked at some mug shots, couldn’t identify our villain and prepared to take off walking towards the hotel. I wish I’d had the foresight to take pictures in the police station, but I was too upset and thought I’d never laugh again. Not true. It was a fun, dismal place and the people were nice. We got ripped off, say we. Yeah, yeah, say they. Not unusual here in old Par-ee.

Back to the problem at hand, how to get back to the hotel. We are now tired and cranky and being very careful not to say accusatory things to each other, such as determining who was at fault. Mine, for leaving the scene and looking for a place to sit, or his, for not choosing to wear his front butt money belt. You be the judge.

The police lady (Herr Schneider pronounced her ”hot”), gave us instructions on how to get back using the subway. We had not heretofore attempted the Paris subway. Herr was unwilling, I took charge. We enter the station and encounter a surly “Information” person behind bullet-proof glass. We’re from out of town! How do we buy a ticket? Machine. She points. No words come from her mouth.

A nice Russian woman helped me get the tickets and showed me where to stick them in to get access to the train area. The Russian woman spoke little English. I spoke no Russian. Neither of us spoke French much. Somehow we managed to communicate. I am dragging Herr Schneider along, as he mumbles how we could end up God Knows Where with a few Euros and no credit or debit cards.

Bottom line, I got us back to the hotel! We spent a few hours on the phone canceling credit and debit cards. We discovered, happily, that I had a debit card and a credit card that hadn’t been compromised. We decided it was a bad thing that we lost a whole bunch of Euros but that’s all. Our pickpocket had attempted cash advances on each of the cards and they had all been sucked into the ATM machine. Stupid Mr. Pickpocket. What made you think you could guess those PIN numbers?

We decided everything would be all right and that it would at least make a good story. I said I would blog about it, for sure.

Then we went out for a beer.

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

(I am probably back now. But having just arrived after four weeks, I likely won’t have time for blogging yet. Hope I had a good time! I’m sure I did.)

I read this probably fifty years ago when I was very young, and I never forgot it, just like there were movies from the fifties I couldn’t forget either. (I wrote a review of the 1950’s movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man.) I reread Anne of Green Gables recently, out of curiosity, to compare it to what I remembered.

This is a YA novel about a girl with a vivid imagination, an orphan who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They wanted to adopt a boy from the orphan asylum (doesn’t that sounds like a grim place, the orphan asylum?) to help out on the family farm. But there was a huge misunderstanding and a girl was delivered to the train station instead of the boy they expected.

Matthew and Marilla are not married, they are brother and sister, and they reside in the family homestead at Green Gables in Avonlea on St. Edward’s Island, Canada. I wondered why the author chose to have them be siblings as opposed to spouses, but in the end, I believe it was because of Matthew’s debilitating shyness. He never could have found his way to talk to a woman other than his sister. And Marilla wasn’t romantic enough to have ever found anyone.

Matthew went to the station to fetch the orphan home, and was aghast to discover it was a girl waiting for him there. A boy would have been bad enough to make conversation with on the way home, but a girl? Whatever would he say to her? It turned out not to be a problem because Anne did all the talking. Matthew was quite taken with her, but Marilla was a harder sell. It took her an additional day, before she decided they should keep Anne.

Marilla is sensible. Frugal and industrious with God-fearing ideas of what is and isn’t proper behavior. I remembered her as being much stricter, and much more dour than when I reread the book. I knew that Anne was an orphan and they had taken her in, but I thought they were related, as in aunt and uncle. But no, they were no relation.

The novel covers five years of Anne’s life, from eleven until she turns sixteen. It’s the Little Golden Book The Ugly Duckling all over again, which was maybe my favorite childhood story book of all. I always hoped I might be like the ugly duckling, and turn into a beautiful swan, I guess.

Anne bewitches everyone, the townspeople, the students in school, and most of all Matthew and Marilla with her enthusiasm, her imagination and her appreciation of life and all that is good in it. The descriptions of the countryside are breath-taking, which I probably didn’t appreciate back then when I first read it.

She finds her nemesis in Gilbert Blythe, and I remembered that as being more two-sided, but it really wasn’t. From the fateful day Gilbert called her “carrots” because of her red hair, Anne hated him, and Gilbert regretted those words, because he actually liked Anne a great deal, and wanted to be friends. But Anne held onto her grudge.

She’s a fair-skinned, freckle-faced, red head and these physical traits were not good ones to have back then, and she was thin too, and grew tall. The ugly duckling characteristics firmly in place, it’s so very heartwarming when she evolves into an attractive young woman, with freckles faded, and her hair turned auburn. She is never described as pretty, but the reader perceives her to be beautiful in a Cate Blanchett, or the very attractive actress in Brad Pitt’s new arty movie, The Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain, type of way.

One of the How-to-Write-Better books I read discussed the evils of telling vs. showing, but then went on to say in effect: But really, we can advise about show don’t tell all we want but talk to Jane Austen about that. In other words, develop your own style and do what comes naturally, like Ms. Austen did. Ms. Montgomery reminds me of Jane Austen, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing, but I think that’s what authors did back then, at least more so than now. They didn’t have the benefits of writing how-to’s so they just did the best they could, and the good ones were really, really good.

Here’s an example:

Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously.

I believe that could be construed as “telling” but so what? I like it.

What I remembered most was Anne’s desire to own a dress with “puffed sleeves”. Marilla considered puffed sleeves the ultimate in frivolity, and refused to make dresses for Anne that weren’t sensible. Who of us, at maybe, twelve years of age, can’t sympathize with Anne, and her desire to be fashionable, and to dress like all the other girls? I remember that. And when Matthew finally takes matters into his own hands, and Anne gets her puffed sleeves, it brought such a feeling of satisfaction to me, I felt like a kid again.

I am very glad I reread it. It was just as good as I remembered, even now when I’m older and more cynical. No one writes YA novels like it any longer. They weren’t even called Young Adult Fiction back then I don’t think. I also read the Cherry Ames Nurse series, and of course, Nancy Drew, in addition to the Anne books. I doubt any of the others can have the kind of appeal of Anne though, at this more advanced stage of my life.

Heartily recommended for all those who would like to recapture something they felt at a (much) younger age!

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

(I must be in Rome now. Probably ready to be home again.)

I don’t remember how I heard about this novel. Maybe Goodreads or someone may have mentioned it in a blog or a comment to a blog. Whenever I see an opinion about a book, that it is “beautifully written”, I’m intrigued and if it’s even remotely within my genre comfort zone, I investigate.

The Sense of an Ending was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. It is a very prestigious award, and the winner can be assured of international success. It is a mark of distinction to be included in the shortlist, or even to be nominated for the longlist.

The novel takes place over a span of forty years, beginning in the sixties up to the present. Now I’m really intrigued, because that is exactly the time frame for my own novels. It’s written in first person POV, which is probably my favorite, and the main character is a very likable, if a somewhat dull, boy/man.

The first section is the backstory, in the sixties, and is a very amusing, frank account of coming-of-age as only men can do it. Men seem to be so forthright about that time in their lives when they write about it, I often wish I could enjoy the same candor.

The story takes place in London, so notwithstanding the subtle language differences as written by an English author, it is, in fact, “beautifully written”, and comedic and insightful, yet puzzling. Tony is constantly told that “he just doesn’t get it” and I must admit, I didn’t get it either, and still don’t and I think the author probably intended it that way. It’s one of those stories where, once you know how it ends, you figure out what probably happened to cause it to end the way it did.

Tony is involved with a girl, who is a PITA when she’s young, and after she comes back into his life forty years later, it’s clear she hasn’t improved, and in fact is worse than that, as if her life between then and now has been filled with sadness and hard times or both.

The book starts out with the sixties timeframe for less than half, then jumps to present day, with Tony narrating what has happened to him, as he remembers it. This is an important point because, memory, or lack of, or imperfect, is a big part of the story. How much of what we remember is true, and how much is what we have always told ourselves is true, and embellished and exaggerated as time goes on? How much of memory is what we wished had happened, so over time it morphs into being that way?

Here are some of Tony’s thoughts about memory:

  • Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.
  • What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been.
  • We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient — it’s not useful — to believe this: it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.
  • How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.

In the present day part, we discover that Tony had written a letter to a friend, which seemed out of character for him, in that it was cruel and unnecessary. This part bothered me, that he would do such a thing and I didn’t think it rang true. Also, did anyone use the term “control freak” during the sixties? I am always very careful of this, in my writing, did they really say this or that back then? Because, language has changed over the years and phrases we use commonly now weren’t necessarily used back then.

The letter was my main issue, I can forgive the control freak part, but it seemed like we should have been given more of the answers than we were. Everything was a bit of a puzzle. And the woman, Victoria, who kept saying he didn’t get it, I wanted to tell her, of course he didn’t get it! How could he? He wasn’t privy to the information.

But it was an enjoyable read, and once I had read it, I discovered that I needed to read it again, knowing what I now knew and when I did that, it seemed less puzzling but still, it’s clear it has been left to the reader to figure out what happened.

The observations made by Tony are priceless, and I’ve included some here that I marked while reading.

  • Most people didn’t experience “the sixties” until the seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties— or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a genius who can fascinate the young. Rather, there’s something wrong with the young who can’t be fascinated by a genius.
  • It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.
  • What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid the bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt — and inflicted for precisely that reason.

I would recommend this book to anyone. It’s a short read, can be done in one sitting. It is an example of how an everyman, who pictures himself as uninteresting, boring even, is far from it. As if every life has had interest and drama along the way, even if you don’t remember that it did.